Premier League final day
There are several sides breathing a huge sigh of relief ahead of this Sunday’s final round of Premier League fixtures.
Tuesday night saw arguably one of the biggest games of the season as Southampton travelled to Swansea for the pinnacle of all relegation six-pointers. Manolo Gabbiadini’s winner placed Saints on the brink of survival and thrust Swansea deep into relegation misery.
Wednesday night saw attention turn towards the race for the top four as Chelsea and Tottenham continued to fight for a spot in next season’s Champions League. However, Huddersfield’s spirted 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge secured their spot among the big boys next season and all but ended the Blues’s Champions League hopes in Premier League odds.
— Huddersfield Town (@htafcdotcom) May 9, 2018
That’s not to say the Premier League is done and dusted for another year though as this Sunday’s final round still sees plenty to play for.
Although Southampton’s victory in Wales was a massive step towards safety, an unlikely, although plausible, turn of events could still see the Swans stay up in their place.
The Saints are currently three points above Swansea but with a vastly superior goal difference which could be the key. Mark Hughes’s men are nine goals better off than the Swans meaning barring a gigantic goal swing on the final day, his side should be safe. However, they are taking on the league’s top scorers Manchester City so they cannot take anything for granted. Pep Guardiola’s men will be looking to see the season off in style after already lifting the title. Having already smashed the records for most points and most goals in a season by defeating Brighton 3-1 on Wednesday night, the Citizens will be looking to become the first team to reach 100 points in a Premier League season and only victory over Southampton will send them to the three digit mark.
Something in favour of the Saints though will be the fact that City could be willing to rotate their squad once more. It seems perverse to say the likes of Bernardo Silva and Yaya Touré represent a weakened squad but it is true when world class players such as Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling are the ones who make way. Sergio Aguero is also expected to be injured once more so Gabriel Jesus will likely lead the line for City as he looks to add to the twelve league goals he has already this season. Trying to prevent that will be Saints goalkeeper Alex McCarthy who has performed remarkably well since replacing Fraser Forster as the club’s number one keeper. The former Reading man has pulled off some unbelievable stops in recent matches, so much so he now has an outside chance of making Gareth Southgate’s England squad for Russia this summer. With him between the sticks, the Saints will be hopeful they can avoid any potential thrashing by City.
Carlos Carvalhal is holding onto a slight glimmer of hope as they look to pull off a miracle to avoid relegation back to the Championship for the first time since the 2010/2011 season. The Welsh side host an already-relegated Stoke City side and they will be hoping to take advantage of the Potters’ lack of motivation for their final game. A 5-0 win coupled with a 5-0 loss for Saints would be enough to see Swansea pull off the greatest of all great escapes but the fact they have scored just two goals in their last six league games will not give them much hope of pulling off such a feat.
Their top scorers this season are Jordan Ayew and Tammy Abraham who have seven and five league goals respectively but the young English forward has scored just once this year in the league whereas Ayew is on a four game goal drought himself.
Stoke were relegated with a whimper following their very disappointing loss to Crystal Palace last weekend and will likely provide little resistance against a Swansea side with everything to play for. If they are to offer any quality, it is likely to come from the mercurial Swiss winger Xherdan Shaqiri who scored an excellent free kick last weekend and will be looking at this weekend’s match as a shop window for a potential move away from Stoke in the summer.
As well as relegation being far from confirmed, the final Champions League spot is also up for grabs. Jürgen Klopp has deservedly earned plaudits this season, leading his Liverpool side to the Champions League final but a slip up on the final day could see them fall from the top four. Trying to take their spot is Chelsea, who made their chances significantly harder following their failure to defeat Huddersfield during the week. A change in the current standings seems unlikely with Liverpool two points ahead of Chelsea going into the final game but with the Reds’ focus switching to their mammoth clash against Real Madrid in Kiev later this month, Chelsea will be hoping they can pip Klopp’s men at the post.
In order for that to happen, Chelsea will be praying for Brighton to pull off a shock win as the Seagulls travel to Anfield. Despite defeat by Manchester City during the week, Chris Hughton’s men will still be buoyed by their fantastic victory over Manchester United last week and will be looking to end their first season in the Premier League with a flourish to crown a fantastic season in which they secured safety with two games remaining. Chelsea will have to hope Brighton’s centre back pairing of Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk pull off their performance of the season to deny Mohamed Salah and co. at Anfield. The Egyptian has been a revelation this year with 31 league goals and he needs just one more goal to break the record for the most goals in a 38 game season jointly held by Alan Shearer, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez.
If Liverpool do slip up though, Chelsea will be looking to take advantage away to Newcastle United. Rafael Benitez has rightfully be nominated for Premier League Manager of the Season as he has got his Magpies into the top half of the table on a shoestring budget but Antonio Conte’s men could be too much for them at St. James Park with everything to play for compared to Newcastle. It could therefore be worth a flutter on Chelsea to pip Liverpool to fourth spot. That said, the Geordie faithful would be delighted to see a top half finish on their return to the Premier League and they will need a win to secure that. Eden Hazard will surely be the man to watch after he was rested in midweek, something Conte surely regrets now after failing to beat Huddersfield.
Who has been your @BarclaysFooty Manager of the Season?
— Premier League (@premierleague) May 7, 2018
In the race for the Golden Boot, Harry Kane still holds a glimmer of hope that he could win the award for a third season in a row. The England forward is currently on 28 goals, three behind Salah as Spurs host a Leicester City side with little to play for. Kane would need four goals and hope the Egyptian draws a blank to win the award outright, a stunt which you would not want to write off too easily as the 24-year-old managed exactly that when he fired four past Leicester on the final day of last season. It could be worth checking out these Premier League tips from Betfair to see if Kane can win you any money on the final day.
Elsewhere, Burnley will be hoping to top off a fantastic season for them with European football already in the bag as they host Bournemouth. Crystal Palace take on West Brom with manager of the month Darren Moore looking to impress as he hopes to get the Baggies job on a full time basis. Arsene Wenger’s final game as Arsenal manager sees them travel to a resilient Huddersfield side who have drawn their last two games against Manchester City and Chelsea.
Finally, Manchester United take on Watford without Romelu Lukaku who has been ruled out injured and Everton travel to West Ham to face former manager David Moyes as they look to secure eighth place.
By Cam Melling